The next DNC Chair needs to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and Donald Trump

In the next four years, our climate and communities will be under assault by a Trump Administration not just influenced by, but fully wedded to the fossil fuel industry. After important leadership and gains in moving past the fossil fuel economy towards a renewable energy boom and a safer climate for all under the Obama Administration, the Trump administration is clearly intent upon taking us backwards and further imperiling our climate and communities.

The Democrats need to stand up to these efforts and say NO to the energy of the past and YES to bold action to build a safer climate and renewable energy for all.

To be clear, there’s a LOT that a new DNC Chair needs to help push when it comes to climate and energy. Below are a few thoughts on some key aspects of standing up to the Trump administration’s push on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, but it’s not an exhaustive list.

Yes to a Climate Test

In his consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama established a new standard by which to assess new energy infrastructure projects: the Climate Test. This test says that any new energy projects should be judged as to whether they align with or hinder our efforts to meet internationally agreed goals to limit global warming. If a project is not aligned with these goals, it should be rejected. While this was initially intended as a federal policy, it can also be implemented at the state or even local level. Democratic governors such as those in California, Oregon, and Washington could send a strong signal by implementing a Climate Test in their states.

This test was endorsed by the DNC in its 2016 platform: “We support a comprehensive approach that ensures all federal decisions going forward contribute to solving, not significantly exacerbating, climate change.” This principle should be strengthened so that energy decisions are consistent with the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.

See more on the climate test at http://www.climatetest.org/

Yes to a Just Transition

It’s undeniable that there are many Americans and communities who currently rely on the fossil fuel industry for employment and economic development. Market forces and climate action will inevitably change this, and Democrats must work to ensure a just transition for these workers and communities as we move away from fossil fuels. Labor unions, community organizations, and frontline communities must be consulted and take the lead in designing support systems as this transition takes place.

Separate Oil and State

The influence of money on our politics is without doubt a key obstacle to moving a progressive platform forward. Now, with Exxon’s former CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, the influence of the oil industry on our politics is simply undeniable. Democrats should lead the way in rejecting this influence by refusing campaign contributions from individuals, PACs, and other entities tied to the fossil fuel industry. Just as tobacco money is toxic, so too should money from the fossil fuel industry, which is intent on maintaining a stranglehold on our democracy in order to protect their bottom lines.

photo credit Josh Lopez

No to Keystone XL

President Obama rightly rejected the Keystone XL pipeline because it would be a threat to our climate and to the communities along the route. The campaign against Keystone XL spawned a massive movement that generated as much energy amongst the Democratic base as any issue of the last several years. Any DNC Chair should be a staunch opponent of efforts to revive this dirty pipeline by the Trump administration, just as the DNC 2016 platform supported President Obama’s rejection of this pipeline.

No to the Dakota Access Pipeline

President Obama rightly put a halt to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline after major resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other water protectors along the route in North Dakota. Not only is this pipeline a threat to native lands and waters, but it is also a threat to our climate and communities impacted by oil development. The review process for this pipeline has failed to consult native tribes adequately, and has not taken the full impacts of the pipeline into account. President Obama was right to halt construction of this pipeline and any DNC Chair should be a staunch opponent of it being completed. Language on “Honoring Indigenous Tribal Nations” in the 2016 DNC Platform marks a foundation for increased cooperation with Tribal Nations on energy issues and should be built upon in this context.

End Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Echoing President Obama’s leadership on this issue, the DNC in its 2016 platform called for the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies: “Democrats believe the tax code must reflect our commitment to a clean energy future by eliminating special tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies as well as defending and extending tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy.” Analysis shows that fossil fuel subsides in the U.S. could be upwards of $17 billion per year. Any new DNC Chair should push for the elimination of these wasteful and harmful fossil fuel subsidies urgently.

No to Gas Pipelines

The 2016 DNC Platform says Democrats “will streamline federal permitting to accelerate the construction of new transmission lines to get low-cost renewable energy to market, and incentivize wind, solar, and other renewable energy over the development of new natural gas power plants.” This prioritization of renewable energy over natural gas is critical but only the first step. For too long, natural gas has been mistaken for a “bridge fuel” away from other fossil fuels on the path towards renewable energy. Studies have shown that the industry’s intended expansion of natural gas production is a disaster for our climate, and that renewable energy is now fully capable of picking up the slack as fossil fuel energy is phased out. Further, the most common method of extracting natural gas — fracking — is a dangerous practice that has been shown to threaten water supplies, impact local air quality, and even cause earthquakes. Natural gas is a fossil fuel and should be phased out, not expanded. No new natural gas infrastructure is compatible with a robust Climate Test, and thus the Democrats should oppose such projects.